The former home of a struggling nonprofit medical research and development center is slated to become the new multimillion-dollar world headquarters of an Akron company.

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro made the announcement during her third State of the County address at the John S. Knight Center on Thursday, during which she also discussed improvements at the Summit County Jail.

Shapiro said legislation will be introduced at the first Summit County Council meeting in September to redevelop the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron campus at 47 N. Main St. into a new $16.9 million world headquarters and research and development facility for The Smithers Group.

The company provides testing, consulting, information and compliance services to the polymer, automotive, medical device, energy and transportation industries.

Shapiro called it “a new day for [the] ABIA campus.”

“This project will continue the transformation of downtown Akron and will serve as a gateway welcoming those who enter downtown from the north,” she said.

ABIA, a collaborative effort of local hospitals and universities, launched in late 2008 with great fanfare. The founders pledged to create 2,400 jobs within a decade and attract at least $50 million worth of investments annually in area health care companies.

“Despite the best intentions of these organizations, the dream of ABIA never fully materialized,” Shapiro said. “What largely remains of ABIA is its headquarters building on North Main Street.”

The space is currently used by Akron Children’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Akron General. Children’s will continue to lease the lower half of the building for training and simulations, while the upper half of the building will be renovated into the new Smithers Group world headquarters, Shapiro said.

The executive said a new research and development building will wrap around the existing building, and several existing buildings will be demolished to make way for the new building and necessary parking.

“We are excited to begin the next phase of this transformational project that will bring together all our employees in Akron who perform vital functions for our clients and our company,” Smithers President and CEO Michael Hochschwender said in a prepared statement.

A Smithers Group spokesperson declined further comment Thursday, referring questions to the county.

 

 

Summit County Jail

The day after the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reported on a potential lawsuit the county is facing after an inmate died last year while detoxing in the Summit County Jail, Shapiro highlighted improvements at the jail, including replacing 107 cameras and installing 261 new cameras in the last year.

After layoffs and slashed inmate services at the jail in 2009 to cut expenses, some services have been restored, including reopening the jail’s gymnasiums and libraries, with thousands of books donated to restock the shelves; expanding religious services; adding an Alcoholics Anonymous program; and starting a Narcotics Anonymous program for women.

The redesignation of Glenwood Jail as a Community Alternative Sentencing Center allowed for the transfer of 18 deputies back to the jail.

Deputies also have started working 12-hour shifts at the jail, one of the commission’s recommendations, which Shapiro said has reduced overtime costs.

Those reduced costs could help free up funding for programming and possibly more deputies, said Shapiro, who said overtime costs at the jail have decreased 26%, sick time has been reduced by 13% and injury pay is down 59%.

“The increased staffing capacity, the return of services for inmates and the installation of new safety improvements are all positive steps forward for the jail,” she said.

Shapiro noted the county “still face[s] challenges when it comes to running the jail,” including the fact that one-third of deputies are eligible to retire this year and in 2020. Already, 18 deputies have retired this year.

The county is focusing on recruiting new deputies to fill that gap, with seven new recruits currently in the University of Akron’s police academy.

“While we made necessary adjustments to improve the staffing levels at the jail, if we’re not able to recruit and hire new deputies, much of our progress forward could be undermined,” Shapiro said.

The recruits attend the academy free of charge thanks to funding from Job and Family Services. After they finish the academy and pass an exam, they will be employed with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

Additional recruitment events are from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 5 and from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 7, both at the Summit County OhioMeansJobs Center, 1040 E. Tallmadge Ave., Akron. Recruits would start at the academy in January. For more information, visit summitcountyoh.eventbrite.com or contact inspector Bill Holland at 330-643-2114 or wholland@sheriff.summitoh.net.

Shapiro emphasized the deputies, along with the county’s entire staff, need to reflect the diversity in the community.

 

Other topics

Shapiro said the county is creating the Summit County Veterans Memorial Plaza outside the county courthouse. The county also created GettingWiser.org, a one-stop shop for aging residents and those who care for them as part of a five-year plan to become an AARP Age-Friendly Community.

Shapiro, who is running for re-election in 2020, highlighted two important activities in 2020: the 2020 census and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, with a website, SummitSuffrageCentennial.com, created for local information on events and resources.

 

 

Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.